Since several of you have asked, yes I do give up on books. That is an important freedom that I exercise, and I strongly recommend that you do too.
I think people feeling like they have to finish books that are not working for them is the reason more people are not readers.
There are more good things to read than I’ll ever have time for, so why get stuck making myself finish things I don’t like, even though I thought I would, or other people love them. (Many books I know right out of the gates to avoid: no thrillers or gratuitous violence for me!) Given my work, hearing so many struggles regularly, sometimes I need something that doesn’t require much, without it being what I call twaddle.
Recently, for example, it was a particularly pointed victory for me to give up on reading A Fine Balance. A friend had told me it was her favorite book. It was highly ranked, and other reviewers said it was their favorite book too. Amazon said, “With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recall the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India.” It is about cast and poverty, and “the fine balance” seems to be caterwauling between hope and despair. I bought it (note it can be easier to quit with library books!), and started into the 603 pages in good faith. I saw much more cruelty and corruption, and didn’t seem to get to the dignity and heroism part.
Was it just that I was reading it during a pandemic? Was is so well written to give me an unshakeable heartache? I would avoid reading it because it was a downer. Well past half, after a serious effort that was laborious and not happiness inducing, I quit. (I should have quit sooner, so this post is for me too!) Oh well, I wasted that money and time, but in releasing it, I felt like I got a “get out of jail free card”! I read something very light and unimportant after that, and I decided to still count those four hundred pages as a book on my Book Challenge, to honor the time I did spend, even though I didn’t finish it.
As blog readers may remember, I read plenty of things with serious content, but I’m a reformation, redemption, or resolution junkie, and if it is not heading there, I’m likely to bail. I read for elevation, not to savor or better understand immorality or degradation. Sometimes educating myself is the elevation, but other times it is more elevating to just liberate yourself from it.
I want you to know that “real readers” don’t force themselves to finish. If it doesn’t genuinely interest you, don’t spend your time reading it. Stopping reading a book can be a hugely fabulous relief. Please be careful not to read out of a sense of obligation. Read for information, for fun, for the uplift, for perspective, for the stimulation, for curiosity, for the plot twists, for the characters, for escape, for a billion good reasons, but if it is truly not working for you, give yourself permission to let it go. Turn to something more to your liking instead. Reading is for you and not anyone else. Don’t “should all over yourself” about it. Let your reading be a way to romp free and unfettered in the world.
I also have multiple books going at once, so that there is always something that in any given moment I’ll feel like reading. I have a non-fiction, a fiction, a spiritual book, and an art book going simultaneously at all times. Sometimes when one of those languishes too long while not getting picked up, I just own that I should substitute another one in for that category, accepting that it didn’t float my boat enough, and I’ll not finish it. For example, Enlightenment Now, is a perfectly fine book, highly ranked, and is Bill Gates’ favorite book of all time; however, I stalled somewhere a third of the way through. I’m not kidding myself that ever I’ll get back to it, even though I thought it might hold value for me.
One of the keys for me enjoying reading so much, as well as reading the quantity and wide range that I do, is that I give myself free reign to give up on books. My time is valuable and there are more truly interesting, great, meaningful, or fun books than I’ll ever get read.
I encourage you to choose what you read on some basis that makes sense to you, and to trust your own feelings regarding what you need to read and what you don’t. Give yourself a free pass to bail at any time. Engagement and satisfaction are what matters most in your reading life. Clearly, what constitutes that is different for everyone.
What a lovely thought you have presented. I have forced myself to finish books, movies and conversations. After finishing, there is a lingering shame that something is wrong with me because I did not like the experience. At first glance the wrong appears to be that I must not be good enough because I didn’t love the book, movie or conversation. But your post has made me realize today that the issue isn’t being good enough. The issue is that I am good and I am good enough to recognize things that are not good for me.
I’m going to carry this forward and when a book, movie or conversation is not good for me, I will recognize my wisdom and gracefully quit reading, watching or visiting.
Thank you for this wake up call.
Thanks. I needed permission!
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